- Protest leaders want govt to sack Law Minister Zahid Hamid as Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal gives another day to end blockade
- Protesters say ‘ready to embrace martyrdom’ in case govt goes ahead with clearance operation, vow supporters will avenge ‘murders’
ISLAMABAD: Leaders of the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah (TLYR) on Saturday refused to end their sit-in at Faizabad Interchange in the federal capital unless the government accepted their demand to send Federal Law Minister Zahid Hamid packing, as the Islamabad High Court (IHC) deadline to the government to clear the area of protestors ended at 10 am the same day.
The protesters made it clear to the government that it was either Zahid Hamid, or “their heads” — there was no other way around it.
The federal government in search of a non-violent solution appealed the leading clerics of the country to play their role to end the blockade of Islamabad as it entered the 14th day.
In a bid to resolve issues in an amicable way, talks between Senator Zafarul Haq-led government team and protesters were held at the former’s residence. The team of protesters was headed by Pir Afzal Qadri.
However, Golra Sharif shrine head Nizamuddin Jami, businessman Rafiq Pardesi, and Raja Zafarul Haq—in the first round of negotiations — failed to convince the TLYR leadership to give in to the government’s demands. The Islamabad administration failed to remove the protesting religious activists—over 10,000 in number—by the time this report was made.
Earlier in the day, Raja Zafarul Haq refused to lead negotiations with the protestors without any headway over their demand of Zahid Hamid’s removal. “I cannot hold negotiations with the protesters, as they are unrelenting over their demand of sending the law minister home,” sources quoted Zahid Hamid as saying.
However, only after ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s personal request to him over a phone call and a subsequent visit of Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal to his residence, he agreed to head the negotiation team.
PEOPLE BEAR THE BRUNT:
Earlier in the day, Ahsan Iqbal announced that the administration had decided to postpone a planned operation against the protesters by another 24 hours in a bid to resolve the situation peacefully.
The blockade of Faizabad Interchange is taking its toll on the residents of the twin cities as one more person passed away after the ambulance taking him to the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences (PIMS) got stuck in traffic due to the sit-in at the main highway connecting Rawalpindi with Islamabad.
The patient, Ghulam Shabbir, resident of Rawalpindi’s Double Road, was being taken to Islamabad for treatment but the ambulance failed to reach the hospital in time to save the man’s life. His body was taken back to his home for burial.
Addressing a press conference, Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal said: “We do not want any bloodshed in the name of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).”
Iqbal urged the protesters to end their blockade of Faizabad Interchange as their demand regarding restoration of the Khatm-e-Nabuwwat oath has already been met. “The Khatm-e-Nabuwwat issue should not be used to achieve political objectives and for creating divisions in the country,” he said.
The minister said that the government wants to hold a final formal talk with the protesters before taking any “violent action”. “We want the end to be peaceful, we don’t want another Model Town-like situation,” he said.
He said that the implementation of the court order of “dispersing the protesters from two religious parties by any means necessary” will be started after 24 hours.
He concluded by saying that the protesters should disperse peacefully as the public deserves to spend Eid Miladun Nabi in a peaceful environment.
PROTEST LEADERS DIG IN HEELS:
Addressing participants of the sit-in at Faizabad in the afternoon, Pir Muhammed Afzal Qadri said that the Tehreek-e-Labaik Ya Rasool Allah (TLYR) will not compromise over their demands.
He said that the protest will continue until Law Minister Zahid Hamid is removed from office. He further claimed that some people who initially supported the TLYR’s cause have now “left them out in the cold and have joined hands with the government”.
Referring to the government’s orders of clearing the protest site within 24 hours, Qadri said that they would not clear the area as long as all of their demands were not met. He further said that the general public would not forgive the government if an operation took place.
He threatened that Zahid Hamid, Ahsan Iqbal, Shehbaz Sharif and Nawaz Sharif, and Raja Zafarul Haq would have to face serious consequences in case the government goes ahead with the operation.
“The public will avenge us if any operation takes place,” he warned.
A spokesperson for Shuhada Foundation of Pakistan, Hafiz Ehtasham Ahmad, also addressed the press conference and said that the government should refrain from going ahead with the operation.
He said that Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui should not have ordered the use of force against the protesters, adding that such orders are against law and constitution.
He stated that if the government went ahead with an operation against the protesters, they would be responsible for the reaction of the public themselves, adding that the demands of the protesters were not unconstitutional. He asked, “Why is it so difficult for them to remove the federal minister for law?”
He said that the time has now come that all religious and political parties should stand with the TLYR for this cause “which is above all other causes”.
Ehtasham Ahmad further said that the government should learn from its mistakes and should not try to repeat history, referring to the Lal Masjid Operation.
Rangers, Police and Frontier Constabulary (FC) contingents arrived at the site of the protest in the morning, as the city administration asked citizens at Murree Road to move to secure locations and directed shop owners to keep their shops closed.
Residents of I-8 and Faizabad have been asked to remain at their homes while the city administration has declared an emergency in hospitals.
The administration has also closed all routes towards Islamabad for unnecessary traffic.
The IHC on Friday took notice of the non-implementation of its earlier orders that directed the protest at Faizabad Interchange to be dislodged.
Acting upon the court-set deadline, the district administration had set a 10PM target on Friday for protesters to end the sit-in, which was ignored.
“Protesters have not taken the court orders seriously,” Justice Siddiqui had remarked during the court proceedings, adding that the district administration has failed to use its powers.
“Freedom of expression does not mean that the rights of other citizens are usurped,” he added.
Justice Siddiqui maintained that the administration failed to play its due role in resolving the crisis and merely watched the spectacle unfold as a ‘cricket spectator’.
The Senate on Friday passed the Elections Amendment Bill 2017, related to Khatm-e-Nabuwwat clauses for voters, after the National Assembly (NA) did the same on Thursday.